COLUMN:  LET THE COUNTING BEGIN

MANILA, May 24, 2004  (STAR) MY TWO CENTS’ WORTH By Dickson Co DFNN.COM  -  The Philippines went to the polls 11 days ago. Unfortunately, our process is not as streamlined that we have results in a few hours. The process is very manual and therefore, very people-intensive, not to mention paper-intensive.

Registration and validation. Despite having registered a few months back, there were thousands of voters who were not able to vote because their names could not be found on the voters’ list. On the day of the elections, voters were manually validated against this list of voters — a very time-consuming and frustrating task.

Voting. To cast a ballot, the voter had to manually write the names of his or her choices. Issues of legibility of penmanship come into the discussion. Manual voting is time-consuming and prone to errors. I wonder how many trees were killed in this election.

Counting. At the close of the polls, the ballot boxes were then opened and the votes counted. For transparency, this was done in a public forum. I can sympathize with the Namfrel volunteers in each of the 218,000 precincts as the ballots were counted and tallied one by one on the board. The results were then summarized and copied not in triplicates but in sextuplets. The sixth copy is usually close to impossible to read. The precinct results were then sent to the Comelec for consolidation. As a result, most if not all of the quick count programs went slowly.

Some suggestions. The Philippines is a clear member of the digital age with our ubiquitous use of cellphones and the Internet. Today, the source is paper-based and then encoded into digital form; it does not have to follow this sequence. Data capture has to be at the source and then produce a paper report, if required.

Registration can be done online as it is done securely everyday through the Internet by companies like Yahoo, eBay and Amazon. Voting can be done securely through cellphones or Internet cafés with no set-up costs. Once the information is digital, then counting and consolidation can be completed within seconds.

Of course, there are some critical issues that have to be addressed like: How do we prevent someone from registering more than once? How do we know the cellphone voter or the Internet voter is the real voter? How do we configure the IT architecture to prevent hacking and manipulation of the results? These issues are very important but not impossible to solve.

In related news, California recently banned voting machines from the Diebold company as they were subject to hacking and did not have a paper audit trail. Of course, the company is defending itself against this allegation.

My Two Cents: Why reinvent the wheel? The rest of the democratic world has been able to count their ballots and announce their winners within a day of their elections for more than two decades. Just ask these countries how they do it and benchmark against the best process.

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Entrepreneurs In Training

In May 2003, Rudy Ang, the Ateneo’s Dean of Business, launched the Ateneo’s John Gokongwei School of Management Business Accelerator (JG-SOMBA). Rudy’s brainchild has the students enrolled in the program receiving guidance and business coaching from the JG-SOMBA staff as they take their fledgling business ideas from the realm of the classroom out into the marketplace. The program produced four businesses last year; five businesses are set for launch this year.

This is a clear case of putting your money where your mouth is. John L. Gokongwei Jr. spoke at the commencement rites of the Ateneo last March. Mr. John shared with the graduates his view of the world, the threat and opportunities of globalization and the role of young people as they enter the real world. I take the liberty of giving you an excerpt below:

"Entrepreneurship is the answer. We need young people who will find the idea, grab the opportunity, take risk, and set aside comfort to set up businesses that will provide jobs.

But why? What are jobs?

Jobs are what allow people to feel useful and build their self-esteem. Jobs make people productive members of the community. Jobs make people feel they are worthy citizens. And jobs make a country worthy players in the world market."

My Two Cents: More power to entrepreneurs and the jobs they create!


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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